Friday, October 3, 2014
Naturally, the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals have other ideas, and both perceived underdogs threw a wrench in that plan Thursday with Game 1 victories in AL Division Series action.
The Orioles took advantage of Detroit's leaky defense and lousy bullpen by scoring eight runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, breaking open a tight contest on their way to a 12-3 victory.
Meanwhile, third baseman Mike Moustakas hit a solo home run in the top of the 11th inning to lift the Royals to a 3-2 win over the Angels.
Baltimore's rotation: Better than we think?
Anyone else think the experts are underestimating the Orioles? They won 96 games this year. They must have done something right.
I keep hearing Detroit has an overpowering edge in starting pitching. I'll be honest: I disagree with that. Detroit's starting pitchers are all prominent media names, but they haven't necessarily pitched better than the guys in the Baltimore rotation throughout the season.
We saw today how things don't always go the way you might expect. Quite a few observers assumed Detroit ace Max Scherzer was going to own Baltimore's Game 1 starter, Chris Tillman.
That did not happen. Tillman only lasted five innings, but he allowed just two runs and left the mound with his team leading, 3-2. He ended up getting the win.
Scherzer took the loss, allowing five earned runs over 7.1 innings pitched.
Shocking? Not really.
Scherzer had a 3.15 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP this year. In comparison, Tillman had a 3.34 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. Sure, you would have to give Scherzer the edge on paper in that matchup, but not decisively so.
The Game 2 matchup in this series is an interesting one. Detroit's Justin Verlander has the Cy Young awards and the playoff experience. He also has a puffy 4.54 ERA, his worst since the 2008 season. Baltimore's Wei-Yin Chen is unfamiliar to casual fans, but don't underestimate him: He won 16 games this year and posted a 3.54 ERA -- a full run better than Verlander. It's hard to bet against Verlander in the playoffs, but his mound opponent is formidable. Game 2 is hardly a slam dunk for the Tigers.
Looking ahead to Game 3, Detroit will send David Price to the mound against Baltimore's Miguel Gonzalez. Again, Price has a Cy Young award and the playoff experience. But it's Gonzalez who posted the better ERA this year (3.23 to 3.26).
This isn't to say the Detroit starters won't ultimately outpitch the Baltimore starters over the course of this five-game series. They might. But keep this in mind: The Orioles have a great chance to win if their starters are good enough to keep the game close into the late innings.
Here's why: Baltimore has a nasty bullpen. Closer Zach Britton and his power 96 mph sinker totaled 37 saves and a 1.65 ERA this year. The Orioles have a outstanding lefty-righty combination setting him up. Midseason acquisition Andrew Miller had a 1.35 ERA in 23 games with the O's since coming over from Boston. Darren O'Day, the right-handed setup guy, posted a 1.70 ERA this season.
We saw all three of those relievers in Thursday's game. The Tigers found out they are pretty tough to beat.
Two of the relievers Detroit is counting on to work in high-leverage situations, Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria, contributed to that eight-run eighth inning meltdown in this opening loss. You better believe the bullpen is a huge concern for the Tigers. Detroit's 4.29 bullpen ERA was third worst in the majors this year.
Yes, Detroit has a bit of an edge in starting pitching, primarily because of all that playoff experience among Scherzer, Verlander and Price. However, I don't believe it's a huge edge. If there's a huge edge in this series, it's the advantage the Baltimore bullpen enjoys over the Detroit relievers.
All the Oriole starters really need to do is keep it close into the late innings. That's what Tillman did Thursday. Baltimore got its desired result.
Can the Royals pull it off?
If you're looking for a reason to believe Kansas City can upset the 98-win Angels, here it is: Los Angeles has a starting pitching staff that is in disarray.
Jered Weaver is the Angels' lone reliable starter, and he pitched well in Game 1 on Thursday. However, Kansas City's Jason Vargas matched him. The game was tied, 2-2, when the starters left, and the Angels' bullpen blinked first with Moustakas hitting the home run off Fernando Salas.
Los Angeles has burned up its best starter and trails in the series. The Angels will be counting on rookie Matt Shoemaker, who hasn't pitched since Sept. 15 due to an oblique strain, in Game 2. C.J. Wilson is in line to pitch Game 3 for Los Angeles. Wilson has had a terrible second half -- his ERA is 6.05 over his last 16 starts.
The Angels definitely miss ace Garrett Richards, who is gone for the year with a serious knee injury.
Kansas City has a shot if it can take advantage of the iffy Angels starters. The Royals are 65-4 when leading after six innings, so it could be tough for Los Angeles if its pitchers put them behind early in games.
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Rebuilding is a hard and oftentimes frustrating process, and Sox fans are learning that this season. It's difficult, because even in a year where you know your team is not going to make the playoffs, you'd like to at least have hope that your team can win the next game on its schedule. But during a rebuilding year, that hope is not always present. There are certain days where you just know your team has little or no chance at victory.
For me, Tuesday was one of those days. The White Sox were scheduled to take on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in a doubleheader at U.S. Cellular Field. Normally, a fan gets excited about 18 innings of baseball in a day, but one look at the pitching matchups for this twinbill was enough to make a Sox fan hold his head in despair.
The Angels, who currently lead the wild card standings in the American League, were throwing their top two pitchers -- Garrett Richards and Jered Weaver. The Sox were countering with their No. 4 and No. 5 starters, two guys who are lucky to be in the big leagues in Hector Noesi and Scott Carroll.
It was impossible to escape the nagging feeling that the Sox were destined to absorb a pounding in this doubleheader. And, indeed, both Noesi and Carroll pitched poorly. The Angels swept the twinbill by 8-4 and 7-5 scores.
Noesi was handed a 3-0 lead in the first inning after Jose Abreu connected for his 26th home run of the season, but he couldn't hold it. In fact, Noesi embarrassed himself and the team by walking seven men in 5-plus innings. He allowed five earned runs. Meanwhile, Richards settled in and gave his team eight quality innings, and the Sox never had much of a prayer -- despite the promising start.
The good news for the Sox was they only had to use two relief pitchers -- Ronald Belisario and Daniel Webb -- to eat up the last four innings of the game. Given the circumstances, it could have been worse, and the Sox' bullpen was still in relatively good shape going into the nightcap.
As expected, Carroll struggled in Game 2. He gave up three runs in the second inning to put the Sox in an early hole, and by the sixth inning, the Angels were out to a seemingly comfortable 6-2 lead. However, the Sox fought back with three runs in the bottom half of that inning. Dayan Viciedo's two-run homer cut the deficit to 6-5. The Sox had the potential tying run on third base and the potential go-ahead run on first before the Angels escaped the inning.
Weaver had entered Tuesday's contest with an 8-2 record and a lifetime 1.70 ERA against Chicago. On this day, the Sox touched him up for five runs over 5.2 innings. That's good offensive production against a quality, top-of-the-rotation pitcher.
Going into the seventh inning, the Sox trailed by just one run, and I figured they would take Carroll out of the game. None of their three best relievers -- Jake Petricka, Javy Guerra or Zach Putnam -- had pitched in Game 1. All were rested and ready.
Alas, Carroll was inexplicably allowed to start the seventh inning. No, his pitch count wasn't high. He hadn't reached 80 pitches yet. But, he hadn't been effective, and the top of the Los Angeles batting order was due up.
Naturally, Carroll walked Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout back-to-back to start the inning. Finally, Petricka was summoned from the bullpen. He allowed one inherited runner to score before extricating the Sox from a bases-loaded mess, and the damage was done. The Angels had scored an insurance run, and the good vibes from the three-run rally the Sox had the previous inning were snuffed. Los Angeles had little difficulty closing out the win from there.
You see, it's hard enough to win when you only have three legitimate major league starting pitchers on your roster. The Sox came into Tuesday on a three-game winning streak, because Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks had all won their most recent starts against the Toronto Blue Jays over the weekend.
But when Noesi, or Carroll, or Andre Rienzo take the mound, this team is asking way too much of its offense. You can't expect to be consistently competitive when you send bums like these to the mound.
The problem is made even worse when the manager and the pitching coach continually push their luck, trying to coax one more inning out of a struggling starting pitcher who hasn't earned the right to be out there. Would the Sox have won Game 2 had Carroll been pulled after six innings? Probably not, but it doesn't take a genius to see they would have had a better chance had Petricka been allowed to start his own inning in the seventh.
That's what being a manager is all about -- giving your team the best chance to win. Robin Ventura and Don Cooper should have been happy Carroll got through six innings, given the subpar stuff he was featuring. Instead, they got greedy and asked him to try to get through seven. It wasn't happening, and as a fan, bad management only adds to the frustration of having to watch a pitching staff full of gaping holes.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Not me. I went with the Texas Rangers. I could be right; I could be wrong, but let me tell you why I did not select the Angels: I wasn't comfortable with their lack of depth in the starting rotation.
I think most people looked at Anaheim's roster, saw Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton all on the same team and figured this club was a slam dunk for the playoffs.
I'm not so sure. When I looked at their projected rotation, I saw the names Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton.
Hmmm ... OK. Weaver is pretty tough, a legitimate All-Star. Wilson is a little erratic with his control, but he has good stuff. That's a respectable 1-2 punch at the top. But Vargas, Hanson and Blanton? If I'm an opposing hitter, I'm not uncomfortable facing any of those three. I felt the Angels would be relying on Weaver and Wilson an awful lot this year -- not only for wins, but to eat up innings as well.
Well, guess what? Now Weaver is injured. The Angels placed him in the 15-day disabled list Tuesday with a fractured elbow on his non-throwing arm. He will miss 4-6 weeks.
The team recalled right-hander Dane De La Rosa to take Weaver's spot on the roster.
What do we know about De La Rosa? Well, not much. He's 30 years old and has a career 10.95 ERA in 12 appearances spread out over the last two years with the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa Bay is the best organization in baseball when it comes to scouting and developing pitchers. The Rays had a team ERA of 3.19 during the 2012 season, the lowest in the American League in the last 22 years. I figure when Tampa Bay dumps a pitcher, it does it with good reason. So, I question whether De La Rosa will contribute anything to the Angels' cause.
Coming into the year, the Angels were a "Weaver and Wilson and pray for rain" kind of rotation. Now, it's Wilson and pray for rain. And it doesn't rain much in Southern California. We'll see if the Angels can hit enough to outslug their questionable starting rotation. They'll have to if they want to win the rugged AL West.
Of course, anytime we mention Jered Weaver we would be remiss to not include this video. "Are you ready, Weaver?!"